"Chapter II." by Isaac Taylor, Jr., of Stanford Rivers
JANE was in her thirteenth year at the time of the removal of the family to Colchester.
Changes in scene and circumstance are, to minds so much alive, as was Jane's, to the full force of every impression, the occasions of important and permanent changes in the character; and therefore become worthy of passing notice in its history. Colchester being then the station of a large body of troops, the utmost activity prevailed throughout the town; and its broad and handsome High Street was a perpetual scene of gay and busy movement. Its many interesting antiquities, [Page 28] also, and the agreeable country by which it is surrounded were sources of new pleasures. The house occupied by Mr. Taylor during his stay at Colchester, though situated near the centre of the town, has attached to it a garden, which, under his care, very soon became agreeable; and was so much so to Jane, that it is frequently alluded to in her letters, as the scene of her happiest hours.
The course of his children's instruction was soon resumed by my father after his settlement at Colchester. Our parents were agreed in their decided preference of a home education, at least for their daughters, who, with the exception of a few lessons in the lighter accomplishments, received from their father their entire instruction; his engagements being such as allowed him to superintend their learning without inconvenience. They have ever thought themselves indebted to him for solid advantages, which greatly overbalanced the value of any accomplishments they might better have gained at school. It may be permitted to me here to say that his methods of teaching were peculiarly happy, in being at once lucid, comprehensive, and facile to the learner. He aimed less to impart those shreds of information, which serve for little except to deck out ignorance with the show of knowledge, than to expand the mind by a general acquaintance with all the more important objects of science: so that, in whatever direction, in after life, his children [Page 29] might pursue their studies, they might find the difficulties attending the first steps on unknown ground already overcome. It was also in his view, a principal object to prevent the formation of a narrow and exclusive taste for particular pursuits, by exciting, very early, a lively interest on subjects of every kind. The influence of this comprehensive system on Jane's tastes was very apparent in after life. * For though, by the conformation of her mind, she most frequented the regions of imagination, and of moral sentiment; she always retained so genuine a taste for pursuits of an opposite kind, as at once to impart the spirit of liberality to her mind, and to become the source of richness and variety in her writings. The result to herself of the kind of education she received, she has well expressed when, in describing a true taste, she says, that–"while it will stoop to inspect and admire the most minute and laborious operations of industry, and while it feels an interest and sympathy in every branch of knowledge, it returns with a natural bias towards that which is most comprehensive in science, most intellectual in art, and most sublime in nature."
In the new circle of friends to which the family was introduced at Colchester, were some persons of superior education and intelligence; and [Page 30] among the many young persons with whom my sisters presently became acquainted, Jane soon found a friend with whom, until death intervened, she maintained an affectionate intimacy. Peculiarly formed for friendship, she was peculiarly happy in her friends–except in having several, most dear to her, torn from her by early death:–such was the case in the present instance. Jane's new friend was the youngest of the four lovely daughters of a physician, esteemed for the excellence of his private character, as well as for his professional ability. He died about the time of which I am speaking; leaving a widow, four daughters, and a son. The intercourse of this family with ours, during several years, was so intimate and frequent, as to claim mention in this memoir, especially as they are frequently referred to in Jane's correspondence.
The eldest of these young ladies was distinguished in an eminent degree by intelligence and sweetness of disposition, and loveliness of manners and of person. Her charm was that of blended dignity and gentleness. Not long after the commencement of my sister's intimacy with this family, she exhibited symptoms of the malady of which, in the course of a few years, herself and her sisters, were the victims; and died, after spending two or three years in frequent, but hopeless changes of scene, among her friends. The second daughter, though less lovely in person, and less gentle in disposition than her elder [Page 31] sister, endeared herself to her friends by the affectionate warmth and candor of her disposition. The progress of her fatal illness was more rapid than in the case of her sister:–she died in the preceding year, at a distance from her home; and her younger sister soon was laid in the same grave. Jane's friend was little inferior either in intelligence or in loveliness to her eldest sister. Many of the letters that passed between her and Jane are before me, and although there is not a little of girlish romance in them, they afford proofs enough of great energy of character on the one part, and of much warmth and tenderness of feeling, and originality of thought on the other.
This young lady quickly followed her three sisters to the grave. She had been sent, more than once, to the West of England; and died, on her way thither, at Basingstoke, December 12, 1806. Her death, under the peculiar circumstances which attended it, made a deep impression upon the mind of her friend; and is indeed so fraught with instruction that it may well claim a page in this memoir.
The mild and gentle spirit of their mother did not supply to these young women the loss they had sustained in the death of their father. They soon learned to pay too little deference to her wishes and opinions; and finding herself unable, by gentle measures, to control the high spirits of her daughters, she left them, with a faint show of [Page 32] opposition, to follow their own tastes. Her inefficient influence seemed rather to accelerate than retard their abandonment of the principles–or prejudices, as they were fondly called, of their education. And so eager were they to "think for themselves," that a very short time sufficed to confirm them in the contempt of every principle they had received from their parents. This tendency of their minds to discard whatever they had been taught in matters of belief, was unhappily aggravated by their witnessing a general laxity of manners, and some flagrant scandals among the religionists whose creed was already the object of their scorn. And such offences are sure to produce the utmost mischief in the minds of young persons whose education, while it has elevated their notions of the requirements of christianity, has failed to affect themselves with the spirit of piety.
In addition to such unfavorable circumstances on the one side, these young ladies were exposed, on the other, to the most seductive influence from the connexions they had lately formed at a distance from home. Many of their new friends were persons at once intelligent, refined in manner, amiable in temper, and perfectly versed in all the specious glozings of Socinianism. And Socinianism at that time was much more specious than at present. For, within the intervening period, the course of controversy has deprived its [Page 33] professors of an advantage–so important to the success of infidel insinuations–that of having itself no defined system of principles to defend.
In the society of persons of this class these intelligent young women quickly imbibed the spirit, and learned the language of universal disbelief; and whatever might have been their early devotional feelings, they became confessedly irreligious in their tastes, and habits. This change was but little obvious in the placid temper of the eldest of them. She was, indeed, fascinated with the showy simplicity of this masked deism, and perplexed by its sophistries; but she thought and felt too much ever to be perfectly satisfied with the opinions she had adopted:–her mind had rather been entangled than convinced. During her illness she seemed anxious to retrace her steps; and in the last days of her life she earnestly recommended her sisters to addict themselves with greater seriousness and humility, to the reading of the scriptures; and died imploring, with mournful indecision, to be "saved in God's own way."
Jane's friend was not at all less forward than her sisters, to renounce what she termed–"the errors of her education;"–she was even more determined and dogmatical than some of them in her new professions. This difference of opinion, along with other circumstances, had lessened the intimacy between the two:–they maintained, however, to the last, a friendly correspondence; [Page 34] though the subject of religion was, by the desire of the former, banished from their letters.
After many changes of place, she once more left Colchester, accompanied by her mother, on her way to Devonshire; but was soon compelled to make her last home at an inn on the road; where she lingered more than three months. The disappointment of her strong wish to reach Exeter, awakened her to the knowledge of her immediate danger; and this apprehension was soon succeeded by all the terrors of an affrighted conscience. The conviction of being an offender against the Divine Law, and exposed, without shelter, to its sanctions, took such full possession of her spirit that, for a length of time, she rejected all consolation: and endured an agony of fear, in expectation of dying without the hope of the Gospel. At length, however, her mind admitted freely and joyfully the "only hope set before us;" and she fully and explicitly renounced the illusions by which she had been betrayed; declaring them to be utterly insufficient to satisfy an awakened conscience, in the prospect of standing at the bar of the Supreme Judge. She lived long enough to display many of the effects of this happy change:–the whole temper of her mind was renovated; she became patient, thankful, affectionate, and humble; and triumphed in the profession of her hope:–"My hope," she said, "is in Christ–in Christ crucified:–and I would not give up that hope, for all the world." [Page 35]
The course of the memoir has been anticipated by this digression: I must now revert to the time of my sister's first acquaintance with these young ladies. The close intimacy and very frequent intercourse of the two families very greatly promoted the mental improvement of all parties; for there were advantages of different kinds possessed by each, which very fairly balanced the mutual benefit. About this time, that is, when Jane was in her fifteenth year, the six friends, in conjunction with two or three others, formed themselves into a society for the reading of original essays, and the promotion of intellectual improvement. Jane's diffidence of her own powers, her peculiar dread of competition, as well as her being one of the youngest members of the society, prevented her from standing very forward in these exercises; but she filled up her part well; and some of the pieces read at the meetings of the society present plain indications of that originality of thought, soundness of sentiment, and sprightliness and simplicity of style, which have since distinguished her writings. But Jane was then, and indeed long after that time, afraid to believe that she had any talent; and it is certain that a belief of the possession, is necessary to the full exercise of intellectual endowments. Nevertheless the part she took in this society very evidently ripened her powers of thinking, and accustomed her to govern the excursions of her fancy. From this time, what she wrote was oftener in the form [Page 36] of didactic essays, than in that of tales and romances. To what extent she continued to write verses, does not appear:–a few pieces only of this date have been preserved. But as they neither possess the interest that belongs to the earliest specimens of talent, nor the intrinsic excellence of maturer productions, I shall not obtrude them on the reader.
* Her opinion on this subject she has given in several of the papers contributed to the Youth's Magazine; especially in that "On a Liberal Taste."